Tigerair Australia’s entire force of 220 pilots will be sacked by the end of this week, according to the pilots’ union. Tigerair’s parent company, Virgin Australia, hasn’t publicly swung the ax yet, saying it is “working through various options.” But the Australian Federation of Air Pilots (AFAP) says they have been advised the pilots will be laid off at the end of this week.
The likely end of Tigerair Australia
It would also likely mark the end of Virgin Australia’s ill-fated dalliance operating the notoriously unreliable low-cost carrier. Virgin Australia has long been involved with the airline. It took 100% ownership in 2015 when it infamously bought the last 40% stake in the airline of Tiger Airways Holdings for AUD$1.
But Tigerair Australia has failed to gain much traction with the traveling public. It has long been constrained by the size of its fleet, lack of profitability, issues of reliability and poor public perception. Virgin Australia has never integrated it into the parent company’s operations the way Qantas has successfully done with Jetstar.
Tigerair Australia has long been dogged by problems and poor public perception
Tigerair Australia’s prospects have also never been helped by continuing speculation about its future. When there was a change of guard in the top job at Virgin Australia last year, new CEO Paul Scurrah maintained Tigerair Australia had a future. As recently as February, Mr Scurrah said Tigerair Australia was a “very important part of our future”.
Not a lot of faith was put into those assurances and that lack of faith appears to be confirmed as Virgin Australia makes its move on Tiger Australia this week. The move comes as Virgin Australia confirmed it had approached the Australian government seeking a USD$860 million bailout loan to ensure the ongoing viability of the airline.
Pilot redundancies are being brought forward
The AFAP had been told that all pilots would be made redundant by the end of April. Virgin Australia has now brought this forward to the end of this week. Calling the decision “opportunistic,” AFAP Senior Industrial/Legal Officer James Lauchland said;
“It is disappointing that while Virgin is trying to reassure the travelling public that it will maintain a low-cost carrier, it is laying off all of Tigerair’s pilots at the same time.”
Virgin Australia is temporarily standing down some 8,000 employees and permanently sacking some 1,000 employees. The Tigerair Australia pilots are part of the later cohort.
A Virgin Australia spokesperson has told Simple Flying that Tigerair Australia pilots are continuing to be paid as normal while consultations with the union continue. The spokesperson says the airline remains committed to Tigerair Australia and that some 180 cabin crew continue to be employed.
The AFAP believes that if the Tigerair Australia brand survives, the planes will be flown by Virgin Australia pilots.
Likely to be consigned to the dustbins of aviation history
But most people believe the Tigerair Australia will not survive. Even in the pre-crisis days, the airline’s fleet and destinations were being trimmed. It looked like Tigerair Australia would suffer a death by a thousand cuts.
While Virgin Australia is now maintaining a bare-bones domestic service, all Tigerair Australia aircraft are grounded. That’s not necessarily unusual right now. What’s also increasingly apparent is that airlines everywhere are using this time to re-evaluate their longer-term strategies and “suspend” unprofitable components of the business.
In a post-crisis era, with everybody just happy to be moving again, airlines can quietly consign their former unprofitable business units to the dustbins of aviation history.
That, despite Virgin Australia’s asserting otherwise, seems to be what’s happening here.